When you think of Dubai, you may think of indulgence and opulence; outrageous shopping centres, impossibly tall skyscrapers, and surreal hotels. While Dubai is definitely a centre for pure decadence, there’s a whole other side that you wouldn’t immediately expect of such a modern city. From the culture of its inhabitants to the diverse culinary options available, and even an impressive contemporary art scene, here’s why Dubai is more than just pure extravagance…
Interestingly enough, the population of Dubai is comprised of only about 10-15% United Arab Emirates nationals, and the rest are expats. The diverse demographics have lead the way towards a rich and varied culture, but at the centre of it is the history and practices of the Emiratis.
A good place to start if you want to learn about the city and its population is the Sheikh Mohammed Centre For Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). This not for profit organisation was opened in 1998 in a bid to help those who lived and visited Dubai develop a greater understanding of local customs and culture. The SMCCU conducts guided heritage tours of the Al Fahidi Historic District, which is one of the oldest traditional neighbourhoods in the city. A nice antidote to the gleaming glass and metal of the modern skyscrapers, this part of Dubai offers ornate architecture and stone and sand instead. Wander through the winding, narrow sikkas, visit a mosque, and learn about and enjoy traditional Emirati food. It’s all an interesting and highly informative experience, especially if your knowledge of the region’s customs is lacking.
Definitely not the first city that comes to mind when you think of contemporary art, but the scene in Dubai is burgeoning. It’s all concentrated in one place too; Alserkal Avenue. This industrial precinct is home to a multitude of contemporary arts organisations, galleries, and performance spaces, all housed within architecturally designed warehouses. Many of them are open to the public and you could easily spend a whole day checking them out.
Of particular note, there’s CHI-KA, a beautifully minimal Japanese inspired gallery. The Nostalgia Classic Cars showroom is a veritable paradise for any car enthusiast. Moreover, the Mirzam Chocolate Makers is a must-see if you have a sweet tooth. Have your own Willy Wonka moment here (sans the Oompa Loompas) and watch the whole process of chocolate making, before trying all the unique combinations they create. Think white chocolate infused with saffron, dark chocolate with dates and fennel, and even spiced camel milk (surprisingly delicious!)
Cap off your day of contemporary art in Dubai by witnessing the incredibly impressive La Perle by Dragone performance.
Food & Drinks
Dubai’s culinary offerings are just as diverse as the city’s population. If you know where to look, you’ll find some of the best Middle Eastern and South Asian food around. Frying Pan Adventures is a great place to start. Run by locals, this is a not to be missed food tour if you’re after an authentic experience. They’ll take you away from the tourist traps and show you where the locals eat, explain the history of the food, and the proper ways to eat it. Local Bites Cafe is another great choice if you want a deeper regional experience.
Check out Tom & Serg when you want a taste of home. Decked out in warehouse style industrial decor, the cafe was co-founded by a Melbourne local, Tom Arnel. As you’d expect, the coffee is up to our high Australian standards, and, yes, smashed avo takes pride of place on the menu.
For a more high-end dining experience, head to Dubai Opera and dine at chef Sean Connolly’s latest eatery. The restaurant’s design is elegant and modern with a menu to match. Order a cocktail and grab a seat on the rooftop terrace; not only will your taste buds be tickled, but your eyes are in for a treat too. Here, you’ll have a prime view of the famed Burj Khalifa aka the tallest structure in the world.
A Different Dubai
Go for the decadence, but stay for the culture and history. Rich in more ways than one, there’s far more to Dubai than just extravagant shopping malls and flashy buildings. A city that beautifully combines the new and the old, it’s absolutely worth spending some time in.
HEY GENTS travelled to Dubai as guests of Dubai Tourism.